Alternative Accounts of Variegated Informality in Asia

Type: Paper
Theme:
Sponsor Groups: Asian Geography Specialty Group, China Specialty Group
Organizers: Yawei Zhao, Yifan Cai
Chairs: Yawei Zhao

Description

Organizers:
Yawei Zhao (University of Calgary)
Yifan Cai (Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen)

Informality refers to the socio-spatial complexity arising from unregulated urban-economic processes. Informal practices, such as slum housing and street vending, are viewed by elites or authorities as not registered and less than legal (Lombard & Meth, 2017). Whereas the formal sphere follows rules set by the state, the informal sphere operates within a set of rules negotiated and enforced by subaltern actors constantly subject to marginalization and criminalization (Hudson, 2013; Banks et al., 2019).

Conventional wisdom has long associated informality with poverty, vulnerability, and marginality. McFarlane’s (2012) recent account however extends the notion of informality to new analytical categories beyond the urban poor. His approach revisits the stigmatization and stereotypization of informal practices and, more importantly, articulates wider power relations whereby (in)formalities are (re)defined and performed, and inequalities (re)produced and reinforced. Informality, once perceived as the formal’s less desirable counterpart, is conceptualized by recent scholarship as a new way of life (AlSayyad, 2004), a mode of urbanization (Roy, 2005), and a site of critical analysis (Banks et al., 2019).

This revised and broadened conceptualization of informality deserves greater attention particularly in Asia, the area undergoing rapid urbanization and industrialization. From the largest slum Dharavi in India to garment sweatshops in Bangladesh, the realities of informality are imminent and eminent across Asia, with implications for how we understand urban-economic processes across other multiple dimensions, domains, and contexts (e.g. Roy, 2009; Schindler, 2014; Inverardi-Ferri, 2018). This revised and broadened conceptualization of informality deserves greater attention particularly in Asia, the area undergoing rapid urbanization and industrialization. From the largest slum Dharavi in India to garment sweatshops in Bangladesh, the realities of informality are imminent and eminent across Asia, with implications for how we understand urban-economic processes across other multiple dimensions, domains, and contexts (e.g. Roy, 2009; Schindler, 2014; Inverardi-Ferri, 2018). This session invites paper on the variegatedness of informality in Asia and alternative accounts beyond more commonplace registers. Potential topics include but are not limited to:

• Scoping and defining informalized spaces and livelihoods
• Conceptualizing the varied agency performing informality
• The representation and mobilization of the informal
• Interrogating relationships between informality and transnationality/translocality
• Transcending the formal-informal binary
• Methodological issues in studying informality
• Resource and power (re)distribution in the (re)making of informality
• Informality under State Capitalism/Socialism

References
AlSayyad, N. (2004). Urban informality as a ‘new’ way of life. In A. Roy & N. AlSayyad (Eds.), Urban informality: Transnational perspectives from the Middle East, Latin America, and South Asia (pp. 7-30). Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
Banks, N., Lombard, M., & Mitlin, D. (2019). Urban informality as a site of critical analysis. The Journal of Development Studies. doi: 10.1080/00220388.2019.1577384
Hudson, R. (2013). Thinking through the relationships between legal and illegal activities and economies: Spaces, flows and pathways. Journal of Economic Geography, 14(4), 775–795.
Inverardi‐Ferri, C. (2018). The enclosure of “waste land”: Rethinking informality and dispossession. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 43(2), 230-244.
Lombard, M., & Meth, P. (2017). Informalities. In M. Jayne & K. Ward (Eds.), Urban theory: New critical perspectives (pp. 158-171). Oxon, OX: Routledge.
McFarlane, C. (2012). Rethinking informality: Politics, crisis, and the city. Planning Theory & Practice, 13(1), 89-108.
Roy, A. (2005). Urban informality: Toward an epistemology of planning. Journal of the American Planning Association, 71(2), 147-158.
Roy, A. (2009). Why India cannot plan its cities: Informality, insurgence and the idiom of urbanization. Planning theory, 8(1), 76-87.
Schindler, S. (2014). Producing and contesting the formal/informal divide: Regulating street hawking in Delhi, India. Urban Studies, 51(12), 2596-2612.


Agenda

Type Details Minutes
Presenter Yifan Cai*, Clark University, The Geographical Coevolution and Industrial Symbiosis of the Formal and Informal Networks 15
Presenter Pu Hao*, Hong Kong Baptist University, Spontaneous Commercial Establishments in China’s World City 15
Presenter Andrew Grant*, Boston College, Disciplining a Market: Urban redevelopment and the Tibetan Market in Xining City, PRC 15
Presenter David Bachrach*, University of Oregon, Livelihood Strategies of Peri-Urban Citizens in Taiyuan, Shanxi, China 15
Presenter Yawei Zhao*, University of Calgary, (In)formalizing China’s urban entrepreneurial space: state, market, and society 15

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